The Summer Country, the recent historical romance from Lauren Willig, is layered, rich, well-researched, beautifully written, and above all masterfully woven.
I preorder books from a few talented authors without a second thought. Lauren Willig is one of those authors.
If you’re not familiar with her, you’re missing out! Her books include The Pink Carnation Series, The Ashford Affair, and The English Wife, among others. The Summer Country is the latest of Willig’s books to hit shelves.
At over 400 pages, The Summer Country by Lauren Willig might be the largest of her novels so far. But it didn’t feel like a large book.
It’s a historical fiction epic spanning several generations in colonial Barbados, with a focus on two of the families who live there. There are two major story threads, one that takes place in 1854 and the other in 1812.
In the 1854 storyline, Emily Dawson travels to Barbados with her cousin Adam and his wife Laura. Emily has been left a plantation by her grandfather, a plantation no one knew he owned.
While in Barbados, Emily meets a variety of characters. These include Nathaniel, a prickly young doctor looked down on for his race, as well as the Davenants. They live on the plantation next to Peverills.
The 1812 storyline follows Charles Davenant. He is called back home to Barbados after the death of his parents to run Peverills, the family plantation. But things are not what they seem in Barbados. There is slavery, racism, fraud, and secrets.
Other characters in this plotline include Robert, Charles’ younger brother, and Mary Ann Beckles, the lady of the neighboring plantation. There is also Jenny, Mary Ann’s slave and confidant, Mary Ann’s uncle, who has secrets of his own, and Fenty, the Scottish bookkeeper.
The two storylines fit together seamlessly. The events of 1812 directly impact the events of 1854, and as Emily pieces together the story of what happened and how her grandparents fit into the narrative, the reader does the same. Willig knows when to reveal information and when to hold it back. This allows the reader to savor the story. It also gave me a chance to try to piece the puzzle together myself.
This novel has the rich language I have come to expect from Lauren Willig. It’s like a warm, deliciously thick stew.
Sure, there are things that I did not like, but that’s more a result of a story set when slavery was legal. You’re supposed to feel uncomfortable. The mystery engages but is not too easy. The threads are all there.
By the time I reached the ending, I was surprised I hadn’t figured it all out earlier, which is part of what I loved about the novel.
If you didn’t already know, Lauren Willig is a historian as well as a writer. So, she knows exactly how to weave the historical events and places with her fictional characters and events. The overall effect is exactly what I look for in historical fiction.
Emily and her family might not be real, but they feel authentic and fit into the time period Willig has placed them. I read a lot of historical fiction, and one of my pet peeves is when authors take modern characters and put them in historical settings.
Now, I don’t know a ton about Colonial Barbados, but the historical notes are as detailed and full as any nerd could want. Beware, you might fall down a research rabbit-hole about the Caribbean in the 1800s after reading this book.
Final Thoughts on The Summer Country
Some novels grab your attention and keep you thinking about them. This is one of those novels. It’ll wash over you like a beautiful song and then leave you wondering about the ending in the best way possible.
There are overbearing matriarchs, matchmaking, enemies to friends to lovers, the plague, and forbidden love. If you enjoy novels like Gone With the Wind or stories with mystery and romance, you should give The Summer Country a chance.
Like with most of Lauren Willig’s books, I would love to see them adapted to film. I see The Summer Country as a Gone With the Wind type historical epic, but with flashbacks. I don’t have any actors in mind, but I imagine this could be a wonderful film as long as Lauren Willig is involved.
Content Note: There are some adult situations and mentions of horrible historical events, but nothing graphic.
Have you read The Summer Country by Lauren Willig? Which storyline did you prefer? Let me know in the comments!